Monday, November 2, 2020

Publisher Gift via NetGalley | The Fighting Bunch: The Battle of Athens and How World War II Veterans Won the Only Successful Armed Rebellion Since the Revolution

I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. In this instance, the publisher contacted me by email to ask if I would be interested in reading the book.

Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

As someone who takes great pride in their reading abilities, I nearly missed out on this fantastic book because I DIDN'T FULLY READ THE SUBTITLE.

I know, right?

When I receive the email from St Martin's Press inviting me to read the book, I saw 'The Battle of Athens' and my mind immediately went to Greece. I assumed it would have something to do with Greece's civil war that erupted in 1946, and that was not something I had much interest in. The book cover showed up rather small in the email as well, so I could not clearly see the cover.


Turns out, this book is fucking brilliant and I am so glad I did not pass up the chance to read it.

DeRose has crafted a masterpiece that details little-known events in Athens, Tennessee. To say that local government officials in McGinn County were corrupt would be putting it mildly. The political machine hard at work in Tennessee did everything possible to ensure that their candidates remained in power. Voter intimidation was a constant, ballot box stuffing was the norm, and anyone who spoke out against it regretted their decision pretty quickly.

One can see then why returning WWII veterans might take offense to this chicanery and blatant law-breaking. These men fought in the worst of conditions all over Europe and the Pacific, only to return home to find their own local governments were not abiding by the very rules and laws set down by our founders. They could not abide this.

The non-partisan GI all-veteran ticket would make sure that Election Day, 1946 (August 1st) would be the dawning of a new era in politics in McGinn County. Naturally those in power had no intention of giving up their voter-intimidating, voter fraud-committing ways without a fight.

A fight is certainly what they got, as the literal battle waged long into the night, carrying over into the early hours of August 2nd before finally wearing itself out.

What occurred prior to that ending is one of the craziest stories I have ever read, and I am so glad that DeRose has brought these heroes into the light where they belong. Once I began reading, I could not put the book down.

As Election Day wore on, the GIs realized that they were not going to get a fair vote, no matter how much they lobbied for things to be done the right way. Polling places were randomly closed, ballot boxes were hidden from view when the counting began, and the all-veteran ticket found themselves and their supporters under assault in some instances. They were arrested, voter intimidation went on like crazy, and a few voters were shot. A small band of veterans decided to take matters into their own hands. Called the Fighting Bunch, this group took up arms and headed to the heart of the ballot-counting, to the town's jail. They demanded a fair and honest count and were immediately rebuffed. The Sheriff and his deputies refused. The battle was on.

It is a miracle that despite the battle waging on for hours as gunfire ricocheted off buildings downtown, not a single person was killed when things finally came to an end. Instead of gloating about their victory, the GIs and the Fighting Bunch in particular realized they might be in some major trouble. After all, they had just lead an armed rebellion that put dozens of people in danger. Criminal charges were possible, and would not have been a surprise. So, instead of glad-handing and celebrating in the streets, the young war-weary men quickly blended back into the crowds of citizens and the incident was rarely spoke of again. In fact, many children didn't even know their fathers had taken part in the event that they had heard whispers and bits and pieces of their entire lives. The veterans had accomplished their goal - a free and fair election. They could return their town and county to respectability again.

Had DeRose not undertaken this project when he did, the truth of that night might really have been lost forever. He conducted extensive interviews with those related to the men who fought just as valiantly for their town as they had their country in the years before. Few witnesses are left, making this book all the more crucial. Many artifacts also helped paint the picture, including radio broadcasts from that evening, previously recorded interviews, journals, letters, and more. It seems that for once, the second amendment did exactly as it was intended - saved democracy in this section of the country.

To be clear, those opposed to the corrupt government of Athens and McGinn County, lead by Boss Crump out of Memphis and Sheriff Paul Cantrell right there in town, tried to call attention to what had been happening for years. Cantrell and his deputies (some of whom were known murderers/criminals, deputized at certain times to 'help out') made sure that their party would always come out on top. Elections were rigged so their candidates won by large margins often - a feat almost unimaginable seeing as how there often ended up being far more votes cast for one of their men than there were eligible voters. They randomly closed polling places with no warning, harassed those who did not vote the way they wanted, threatened voters who asked (as was their right) to witness the vote-counting, and were not above assault and even murder. The corruption extended far beyond election day however, as the elected officials made sure to line their own pockets, as well as the pockets of the men above them that they owed their positions to. the sheriff and deputies often made false arrests and charged the supposed offenders exorbitant sums of money. They also targeted tourists and those passing through. Word got around rather quickly that it would be best to by-pass Athens altogether whenever possible, and in general to just stay out of McGinn County.

This is a fascinatingly comprehensive look at the lives of those involved and the events leading up to that fateful day where a group of residents decided that enough was enough. They would not live in fear, and they would make sure that every vote was counted as it was cast. This is a story of courage, grit, and determination. These men had spent significant portions of their young lives fighting in a war on the other side of the world, only to come home and find there was more fighting to be done.

DeRose is thorough in his research, including scores of footnotes (we all know I LOVE footnotes) and plenty of sources for further perusal. He truly brought this story to life and this is as timely as ever here on the eve of what I believe will be one of the ugliest elections in our nation's history.

I already have two people I will be giving this book to for Christmas. I can not recommend it highly enough. This is a must-read.


  1. Oh my gosh... I had no idea about this! This sounds like an amazing book with great and accurate sources. If I want to learn more about the Battle of Athens I'll read this!

  2. There is SO much history like this that is overlooked or sidelined. THANKS for bringing it to my/our attention. I've already added it to my Amazon Wish List after our last conversation about it. Let's see how many more Historical gems we can find next year! [lol]

    1. I really hope you get a copy, it as such a great read - timely, also. And gives me hope.

  3. Sounds like an important piece of history.


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